Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Sunrisers Hyderabad and Maharashtra batter Rahul Tripathi is "not far at all" from an India cap and could be a back-up option for Nos. 3 or 4 in India's T20I squad, according to Ravi Shastri and Daniel Vettori. Tripathi has been the most prolific No. 3 in IPL 2022, and top-scored with 76 off 44 balls to set up Sunrisers Hyderabad's total of 193 for 6 on their way to a three-run win against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday.
On ESPNcricinfo's show T20 Time:Out, Shastri and Vettori heaped praise on Tripathi's shot-making, temperament, all-round game, fearlessness and his ability to take on Jasprit Bumrah.
When asked if Tripathi was far from an India call-up, Shastri said: "He's not far at all. If someone doesn't get up from the bench or gets up from the wrong side of the bed and gets injured, this guy can be slotted in straightaway. He can go at No. 3 or 4, he's a dangerous player, and should be in the mix. If he's performing season after season, I'm sure the selectors will be watching that very, very closely and giving him his due."
Shastri further said Tripathi's all-round game and temperament could make him a back-up option to a similar batter, Suryakumar Yadav, who is a strong contender to be in India's T20 World Cup squad later this year.
"No question about that," Shastri said. "It's not that one swallow that makes a summer, he's been around for a bit and what I like about his game is his fearlessness, and he's got a tag of being a known quantity and someone the opposition wants to get out quickly. Irrespective of that, he comes out and plays his game and his shot-making ability, the all-round game that he has, he's not overawed by any opposition or by any bowler, which is great to see."
Tripathi has batted only at No. 3 during this IPL for Sunrisers and has made the position his own. His knock on Tuesday, his highest score this season, was all the more crucial in a must-win game because Sunrisers pushed an out-of-form Kane Williamson down the order and opened with Priyam Garg and Abhishek Sharma. The pressure mounted on Sunrisers when Abhishek, their top scorer in this IPL until Tuesday, fell for 9 in the third over.
After Abhishek, Sunrisers have mainly been driven by their middle-order trio of Tripathi, Aiden Markram and Nicholas Pooran. The advantage Tripathi holds over his team-mates is that he doesn't take time to get off the blocks. While Markram and Pooran had struck at 98.9 and 90.8 respectively over their first 10 balls, before this game, Tripathi had scored his runs at 147.4. When Markram and Pooran had picked up their strike rates to 135.1 and 184.6 in the 11-20 balls segment, Tripathi had lifted his even further, to 203.6
He got going quickly against Mumbai too, by picking the gaps early on. In the fourth over, against left-arm spinner Sanjay Yadav, who had fine leg in the circle, Tripathi shuffled across to sweep for a boundary past that fielder. Two balls later, Sanjay pitched it wider outside off and Tripathi drove him elegantly over the covers for four.
"Tripathi is a very, very confident player," Shastri said. "What I liked best was his shot selection, the positions he got in, the anticipation, the reading of the bowler and the lengths he is going to bowl, and then getting into positions to attack a part of the field he wanted to. He gave himself in those positions a couple of options. If the ball was up, he had a couple of shots ready once he got into that position; if the bowler altered, he had plan B in place as well. So extremely impressive and a terrific innings."
Next, Tripathi faced Bumrah, against whom he already had a favourable match-up of 28 runs off 17 balls for one dismissal. Once he saw out two balls from Bumrah, Tripathi dispatched a well-anticipated short ball for six over midwicket. Bumrah then resorted to a slower length ball with a stifling line outside off and Tripathi got a boundary off that too; he opened the face of the bat late and just enough to find the gap behind square on the off side. Off the last ball of the over, Tripathi drilled a full delivery through the covers to pick up his third successive boundary. In all, 15 came off that over.
"Tripathi's innings was exceptional," Vettori said. "He has had a great season, but this feels like his best innings. His shot-making against highly skilled bowlers…it's a beautiful swing that he has, and we saw the best of him tonight.
"You judge batsmen against the best bowlers in the world. You see him against Bumrah and he looked comfortable. Bumrah threw everything at him, he bowled short, he bowled a slower ball, bowled it in…the shot off the slower ball was his best one. Bumrah went to his yorker and he punished him through the covers.
, "At no time does he look under pressure. He has this natural calmness at the wicket, prepared to strike from ball one and some of his shot-making is outstanding. There's no shot he doesn't have and he's fearless the way he goes about it. He never looks under pressure, he never looks stressed, so all that culminates into a very good T20 batsman.
"He never lets a bowler settle. Even good balls he has the ability to dismiss, particularly against spinners he'll be aggressive against them, he'll take them on, so always pushing the game forward rather than waiting for the game to happen and the situation is irrelevant, and that's what makes him and Suryakumar special, that they play their natural style irrespective of the situation."
One of the most impressive aspects of Tripathi's game has been his ability to accelerate as soon as he comes out to bat. Sunrisers have had the second-slowest powerplays in this IPL, and yet Tripathi has found ways to pick up the scoring for his team at the fall of a wicket. So far in IPL 2022, Sunrisers' average run rate before Tripathi bats is 7.09 but their scoring rate climbs to 8.78 when their No. 3 is at the crease. This gives batters like Pooran and Markram the time to settle in and go hard towards the end.
"The thing with Tripathi season after season is whether he has a great or good season, or not a great season by his standards, while he's at the crease the scoreboard is ticking and he's scoring at a great rate, which is tremendous at No. 3 because he sets it up beautifully," Shastri said. "If a wicket goes early, he's ready to counterattack. When you get a good start, he's there to build on that. He doesn't go behind the eight ball, rotates the strike well, he has the big shots up his sleeve and he has a tremendous all-round game.
"This guy comes with no baggage. He'll come out and play his shots. The time he spends at the crease, he'll be value addition to the [India] side."
Speaking with Star Sports after being named the Player of the Match, Tripathi said he too was hopeful of getting the India call up.
"Definitely, when you play cricket it's obviously your dream to represent your country and if I keep doing well and they [selectors] believe I can win the matches for my country then definitely I'll get the opportunity."